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  • Writer's pictureHetvi Kamdar

Radio Advertising: From Medium To Mind

The radio marked the peak of the Golden Age and scientific advancement in the 20th century, with its ability to transmit messages globally through mass communication - and the development of radio wave technology which is still evident today in our televisions, satellites and other communication devices.

Radios, although initially used for broadcasting news and important information, were soon adopted by the advertising industry to market their products to a wider audience, at a scale that was never before seen. Today, through the convergence of new media with age-old technology - our society has created an eloquent blend of advertising and entertainment - that not only markets, but also builds an emotional connect with the listener - only through audio.

Theatre of the Mind, a concept coined by Orson Welles is the staging of a drama in the imagination of the audience through sound.

Now let’s break this down, and understand each of the components individually.

  1. Staging of a Drama - The use of the term ‘staging a drama’ is directly indicative of a performance - usually held in auditoriums and amphitheaters to entertain the masses.

  2. In the imagination of the Audience - This breaks the conventions of a typical drama - because dramas can be witnessed visually - but the theatre of the mind occurs within the confines of the mind - and does not really exist in reality

  3. Through Sound - This is the differentiating factor that compartmentalises this concept within the field of radio technology. Simply by hearing someone else’s voice - we can conjure up images in our mind and envision how the story may play out.

In basic terms - theatre of the mind requires you to mentally complete the story through the use of your own imagination. Imagination cannot function without participation - and through participation, we memorialise the story within our memory.

Storytelling is embedded within the fabric of advertising - but this concept takes it a notch further. Let’s understand how radio advertising can revolutionise the way we perceive this industry.

Here’s a glimpse of how radio advertising works:

The Psychology Behind Radio Advertising

In a world bombarded with audiovisual stimulation - we tend to get burnt out easily. We consume what we are fed - almost absentmindedly - and because of this, we stop using our own mind.

However, with the ‘theatre of the mind’ - it’s all about the acting, the script writing and that which is left unsaid. There is no concern for the theatrics, it resorts to plain storytelling. Thus, there is space for our imagination to churn out its own interpretation of the story at hand.

While theatrics can be great tools, they do limit the amount of work the audience’s brains have to do - and so we passively consume content instead of actively participating in it - thus making the content futile, and easily forgettable.

Active usage of imagination

  • Requires attention and participation

  • Enhances memory

  • Ignites passion

  • Arouses creativity

All of these features are essential for advertising because they engage the listeners and make sure they’re invested. Through theatre of the mind- we can get our TG to participate, catch their attention, and keep it - all while developing a relationship with the listener.

And, some things simply work best in our imagination.

Do all forms of Radio Advertising evoke the Theatre of the Mind?

No, radio advertising can be basic, simple and to the point as well. It can directly address the subject matter without delving into the art of storytelling. Although this format can also prove to be effective, it would not sustain itself in the long run - because it fails to build a connection with its audience.

Theatre of the Mind is only activated when the sounds coming from the speakers compel the audience to actively construct an imaginary scene in their mind.

  1. Theatre of the Mind is involuntary

  2. Theatre of the Mind is Participatory - it evokes different emotions for each listener

  3. Theatre of the Mind Acts as a portal into the story

Although there’s no set recipe to invoke this feeling, some guidelines can help to create this environment. The use of three scene-creating sound effects helps in inducing this. Here is how it works:

Simply hearing the voice of a seagull cannot transport you to a sea shore.

But, if you hear a seagull, with the sound of waves crashing in the backdrop, as well as the distinctive sound of an ice cream van passing by - you pass through the portal that instantaneously places you at sea.

Once this set has been established, you have successfully grabbed the listener’s attention - but it is what you do with this set, and how you introduce interesting characters - that makes or breaks the charm.

Without ACTION and CHARACTERS, you cannot retain the listener’s attention and keep them captivated with the story world you have created.

There is science behind why environmental sounds and descriptive elements enhance the brain’s ability to construct fictional realities - this was studied by sticking people into an FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) which measures brain activity.

With every added scenic descriptor - the brain lights up, and maximum engagement was found within the prefrontal cortex when three descriptors were used.

Radio: The Blind Man’s Theatre

“Radio is the theatre of the mind; television is the theatre of the Mindless” – Steve Allen

Writer Steve Allen’s quote is obviously referring to the fact that radio requires the listener to imagine what is happening, whereas TV will simply show you.

The radio is where you use your imagination more than in other forms of art which makes it a blind media - as it relies on your auditory senses the most.

It may seem redundant to use radios in this day and age, but radios turned oral fables and stories into a magical form of entertainment for a whole population. Before audiovisual technology - radios were the place where stories took form.

With society becoming increasingly interlinked and homogeneous, it is digital audio that stands its ground as one of the few mediums capable of reaching consumers no matter where their attention is directed. Brands across industries are taking note of this and have started experimenting with this medium to forge stronger connections with their target audiences through audio.

The Theatre of the Mind boils down to being a powerful creative device that can be used for conveying action (the revving engine of a motorcycle), expressing emotion (a quivering voice) or even creating a sense of place (crashing waves). Fostering this experience into your advertising can not only upscale your brand’s storytelling, but also create a more intimate and personal connection with the listener.

How To Tell A Story Using Only Sound

The world is becoming visually literate about everything in real time to the point where nothing is left to the imagination. We have AI and technology dictating our every move, before we even make it (sometimes, before we even think it).

Once in a while, it's a good idea to regress back to your roots, step away from the humdrum of developments - and just turn your focus inwards. Because the best stories come right from your mind and your heart, you don’t need to search for it in your external environment.

Here are a few radio advertisements, try closing your eyes while listening to them, for a more heightened feel and appeal.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while formatting an advertisement that caters to one’s ears:

  1. Use a humorous and conversational tone

  2. Address the individual listener - make it personal

  3. Employ a clean and crisp Call To Action

  4. Do Not Drag

The strength of audio advertising lies in the power of sound and the amazing ability of sound to evoke a feeling, paint a picture or refresh a memory. With this tool, your mind is the stage on which sound performs its magic

Why Use Radio Advertising?

Radio is portable… quite literally. You can play it on Spotify, place it in a room, or listen to it in your car. But more than that, a powerful radio advertisement will stay in your consumers mind long after it’s finished playing. In other words, your consumers carry it in their minds.

Spotify is a prime example of this, although we all complain about how annoying these advertisements are, we cannot help but hum along as they play - and the brands they advertise are stored in our memories involuntarily.

Spotify, knowing its target demographic - strategically uses audio advertising to gain maximum exposure, as well as revenue.

Check out one of the Spotify Advertisements here:

Spotify claims that audio ads increase ad recall by up to 24% over traditional display ads – a claim that will resonate with radio advertisers, who have long been preaching about the benefits of audio advertising over traditional advertising.

Spotify also provides its collaborators with targeted advertising, a concept which has already revolutionised the way we perceive and interact with brands.

To reiterate, use radio advertising because:

  • It is inexpensive in comparison with traditional advertising

  • It advocates a sense of immediacy

  • Intimate while Selling

To boil it down, it is : Immediate, Portable, and Involving.

When done well, radio advertising works wonders simply because it requires active involvement - and if you’re able to get your audience to immerse themselves within the ad, the sale is halfway done. It strips away from the unnecessary elements and focuses solely on the essence of the product - no need for huge production costs, celebrity endorsements or resources - with a strong copy, you can make your point.

When you connect using emotion, your consumer pays closer attention. When that happens, your message breaks through the noise and gets firmly planted in your consumers’ mind and radio allows you to do just that.


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